Of all the pill poppers, free-basers and strung-out shooters that have ever littered popular music, Slaid Cleaves is the least likely drug fiend. He's probably the only one who has ever earned a steady paycheck just from using. Sure, this was decades ago, and Cleaves was paying the bills as a trial drug guinea pig, but the Austin-based songsmith has long taken the tough truth of such desperate days and turned them into riveting story songs, the kind his influences — Townes Van Zandt, Hank Williams and Bruce Springsteen — might have written, had they shared the specific contours of his experience. With a voice as thick and sweet as Tupelo honey and an unsparing but ultimately generous view of the hard side of life, Cleaves remains one of the most rewarding singer-songwriters working today.
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